Why rookie Colts safety Nick Cross only played 1 snap against Chiefs

INDIANAPOLIS — Rookie strong safety Nick Cross barely saw the field in the Colts’ impressive defensive performance against Kansas City on Sunday.

Cross, the third-round pick who beat out veteran Rodney McLeod for the starting job in training camp and played every snap in the season opener, ended up playing just one snap on defense against the Chiefs.

McLeod played all 63 snaps, made four tackles, broke up two passes and held on to cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s deflection of Patrick Mahomes’s final throw, making the first Indianapolis interception of the season to seal the team’s first win.

“We just felt like the situation we were going into, with the communication that needed to take place, that maybe Rodney’s experience might help us a little bit more,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “It really wasn’t based on Nick’s performance or anything like that.”

Facing off against one of the league’s most creative and high-powered offenses, the Colts ran a complex game plan, constantly shifting coverages in an effort to make Mahomes hold the ball longer, a plan that worked to perfection.

“We threw some change-ups in there,” McLeod said.

But the way the Colts defense played Sunday does not mean Indianapolis is benching Cross permanently.

Not according to Bradley. Three games into the season, the Colts have gone with three different divisions of playing time at the position — Cross playing the starter’s role in the opener, a time share in Jacksonville and then McLeod taking the lead against the Chiefs.

“It’s kind of game to game, we evaluate what’s best,” Bradley said. “Nick has got a really good skill set. He’s an elite athlete. It’s just about gaining that confidence to play in, play out with the unit.”

What made the coaching staff’s decision so interesting was the ankle injury Julian Blackmon suffered in the first half. Instead of shifting McLeod to free safety and putting Cross in the lineup at his natural position — the team’s plan this preseason — the Colts went to another rookie, Rodney Thomas II.

Thomas II, a seventh-round pick out of Yale, has come on strong at free safety, and Indianapolis felt comfortable making the rangy rookie the team’s last line of defense.

The Colts were right.

Thomas II only made two tackles in his 51 snaps, but the Chiefs were never able to take the top off of the Indianapolis secondary. Kansas City’s five plays of 20 yards or more came mostly on throws to the tight end and yards after the catch on JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 53-yard catch-and-run.

“He plays with a lot of confidence,” Bradley said of Thomas. “He plays fast, he plays aggressively. When that situation happened, we really didn’t flinch to put him in. Felt a great deal of confidence with him.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts: Why rookie safety Nick Cross only played 1 snap against Chiefs